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VG BOE votes in favor of keeping mask mandate for year

By Kendra Hennis 
The meeting of the Villa Grove Board of Education was called to order at 6:01 p.m. on Monday, August 16 with board president Jim Clark absent. 

The board began by hearing public comment by multiple visitors in reference to the Back to School plan that had been approved by the board at the July meeting. Visitors asked the board to reconsider their stance on required masks for students during the school year, stating that they were “ineffective”, “unsafe”, “anxiety-causing”, and “responsible for more long-term effects in children”. Many stated that it should be the parents choice to make the decision for their kids and that they should “fight injustice”. Concern was stated that the students may not follow the same mandate after school hours. It was also brought to the board’s attention that other schools in the area are choosing to not follow the mandate, such as Shelbyville. Visitors said that the school had other options and that the board would have their support should they choose to consider them. 

The board then presented their feelings on the guidance. They agreed that they do not enjoy wearing the masks, or enjoy forcing their children to wear them. They discussed many things presented by visitors, such as the possibility of a liability waiver for parents to sign, new legal counsel, or a possible change in insurance. 

Superintendent Carol Munson explained that the plan set at the July meeting followed the guidelines recommended by the CDC and ISBE, which included a mask mandate. She explained that if the board voted to change their plan, they would no longer be following required guidance and face risk of losing insurance, funding, accreditation, and association with the IHSA. If the school were to become uninsured, they would not be covered for anything, even accidents. It was explained that if they were to change policy, the state would first send them a warning letter, followed by 30 to 90 days to show compliance. After that, they would begin to hold recognition status, funding, and ISHA eligibility. However, the insurance could be dropped overnight should they not comply. Munson said that the school has a bad insurance history from previous problems, and while they are working on improving that, she said they were lucky to have the coverage that they did. She also noted that the state funding they would be foregoing is $3.5 million and she does believe it would be held by the state if necessary.

Board member Jerrad Zimmerman explained that the board had looked into changing insurance last school year for sports and could find no one that would cover liability insurance. He also presented concerns that hiring legal counsel costs taxpayers money and that they then not be following the requirements of the Teacher’s Union. He said he was in support of what everyone said, however, he was looking at the financial future of the school. If there is no liability insurance and no funding, a lawsuit could end the school. Zimmerman also noted that the virus is still present, with Carle just again closing their in-patient surgeries due to a rise in cases. He additionally presented concerns of losing IHSA association, fearing that they could risk losing all extracurriculars if they do not comply with the mandate. 

Board member Bill Fulk thanked all for attending and noted agreeing with them. He presented concerns of the school losing funding since it just got in a better financial standing, and said as someone who worked in insurance that it does not look good when searching for a new insurance company if the school were dropped due to noncompliance. Member Carisa Jones noted that while she was not happy with the mask situation, she was happy that students were currently able to attend school in-person instead of remotely. 

Ag teacher Callie Parr responded to some of the questions on behalf of the teachers, saying that no one is going to punish children who need a minute to adjust to masks. She said that as long as people were willing to work together that they were going to get through this. Munson additionally noted that a large number of superintendents were currently fighting for local control in the legal realm, but that it is a slow process. Fulk encouraged all at the meeting and interested to join the fight in writing to the government officials to ask for local guidance. 

Ultimately, the board voted in favor of keeping the back to school plan as previously approved with Zimmerman, Jones, Fulk, and Kristen White voting yes, and Megan Quigley and Charlie Mitsdarfer voting no.

Following, Junior High and High School Principal Sara Jones stated that back to school prep had started at the school, that she and Mr. Beck had met with the new teachers and their mentors, and that she and the junior high and high school coaches had met with AD Noreen Acton. She noted that the school did not find someone to teach Spanish, however they have found a program with a permanent substitute for the first semester that she believes will work well. Jones also reported that the landscaping was completed, Chromebooks were being handed out to junior high students, recertification had been completed, and that a new program called Xello would be beginning for career development through a grant from Parkland College. She added some upcoming events of Blue and Gold Night on Friday and Stadium Seat Installation on Sunday. 

Elementary Principal Bobby Beck followed, noting that elementary enrollment was consistent with last year, and that a third section of kindergarten was added for this year. With the staffing shortages they have not found a full-time teacher for this section yet. However, they have a long term substitute and hope to fill the position after the first semester. He sent a thank you to the office and custodial staff, saying they helped get the school ready for a great year. Beck noted that online registration went well, and that he and Mrs. Jones are planning for an in-person date for new students next year to introduce them to the school. He thanked the Villa Grove Ministerial Alliance for their Back to School Supply program, reporting that they helped 152 students with most of their school supplies for the year, and provided 28 classrooms with additional supplies. He also announced that the new school website and app were live. The app can be found through the Google Play or Apple Store and it will provide more information and communication with students and families. He ended noting some upcoming dates at the school: Teachers Institute on August 17, First Day on August 18 (2 p.m. dismissal), Stadium Seats Installation on August 21, Open House on Sept. 1, No School for Labor Day on Sept. 6, and Picture Day on Sept. 14. 

The board also:

* Approved the regular and closed session minutes of the July 19 board meeting.

* Approved authorization of the payment of bills.

* Approved the monthly treasurer’s report.

* Approved the tentative display budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022. Munson said that currently the budget is balanced. However, they are unsure of revenues for the 2021-22 school year and will be until finances are released by the state. It was also stated that the IMRF should have itself funded by next year, the new gym is paid off, no major projects are currently planned, and that the co-op budget is all caught up. 

* Learned that the school’s audit had been completed in July during Superintendent Munson’s report. 

* Moved reading and approval of Press Plus #107 to the September BOE meeting.

* Approved moving to closed session at 7:16 p.m. to discuss the appointment, employment, compensation, resignation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees of the public body or legal counsel for the public body, including hearing testimony on a complaint against an employee of the public body or against legal counsel for the public body to determine its validity and/or discussion of specific students. 

* Adjourned until the September 20 board meeting at 6 p.m.

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